Diversity and the demand for bureaucracy

How greater diversity causes an expansion of administration

Every social arrangement pays a price to receive a corresponding benefit. For instance, democracy chooses to forego the benefits of centralized planning and swift collective action in favor of each citizen enjoying a say in the government’s policies. It takes a long time for everyone to weigh in on a matter, and since there are often differing opinions, the process can be very inefficient. But a democratic society has chosen to accept this inefficiency because the alternative arrangement seems worse.

Wherever we enact a prohibition, we incur some cost in the hopes of generating a higher upside. We could consider Levi-Strauss’ insight that all forms of human society so far encountered have observed the prohibition against incest. The formation of human communities was only made possible by foregoing the possibility of having sex with one’s parents or siblings, thereby creating a bounded family unit which could function as the basic building block of society.

Diversity imposes a cost on society. Societies which do not value diversity have decided that the cost of diversity outweighs the benefits. This can be a rational choice. With only roughly 2% of the population being non-Japanese, Japan is a fantastic example of such a nation. A society with that much homogeneity enjoys an unprecedented amount of safety, uniformity of social norms, long-lasting cultural touchstones, and higher efficiency in collective planning and decision-making. They have chosen to forego the potentially infinite upside of the new ideas or technological breakthroughs which diverse societies have a better statistical chance of producing, and instead have chosen to implement more stable and enduring communal structures.

Societies which have decided they value diversity are betting on capturing the upside of the creativity, innovation, and freedom which comes with a more diverse group. However, these societies also have to be transparent about the additional costs which increased levels of diversity impose on the community. Some small examples might be the additional time and money it took for Canada to print English and French on all their signs instead of simply one or the other, or the cost of having sign language interpreters at every televised press conference. More significant costs might be the mental burden of not being able to assume as many common norms when meeting a new person, or the increasingly laborious process of communal decision-making.

One of the costs of a diverse society is an ever expanding bureaucracy for managing the increasingly unstable relationship between the diverse groups within the society. This process turns on the reality that in a diverse society every group is a minority group. Thus, every group needs a mechanism for registering their needs and concerns with the community as a whole. This can be done effectively through an outburst of violence, as we’ve seen with the Black Lives Matter protests, but no society can survive long if it’s wracked by wave after wave of violence just to ensure each group gets a proper hearing. This means that the community must put in place a bureaucracy for the production of protocols, registering of complaints, remedying of violations, and recognition of newly emergent self-identified groups in the community.

Since diversity imposes a number of costs on the community while simultaneously promising some desired benefits, a smart community needs to put in place structures which will harvest the upside of that diversity while managing the costs of diversity. After all, if you aren’t enjoying the benefits of diversity, why are you shouldering the cost for it? While one could certainly imagine a community which simply values diversity irrespective of its utility, most arguments for diversity in our society today promote diversity as leading to better outcomes for communities and organizations. If this is true, — which, for the record, I believe that it is — it will require a mechanism to channel resources to where they will have the greatest impact, and to identify and amplify the positive byproducts of diversity within our communities. Bureaucratic structures thus not only manage and negotiate the ever-shifting relationship amongst the diverse groups, but they also compose institutions, execute initiatives, and allocate resources to help a society reap the full benefits of the costs its diversity imposes.

I see great value in further theorizing what a minimal structure and maximally diverse society might look like, what strengths and weaknesses would result from diverse communities which lack bureaucratic structures for the management of diversity costs and the value capture for the benefits of diversity, and whether there might exist effective value capture mechanisms other than bureaucratic structures.